Win Win [Blu-Ray]
Director : Tom McCarthy
Screenplay : Tom McCarthy (story by Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Paul Giamatti (Mike Flaherty), Amy Ryan (Jackie Flaherty), Bobby Cannavale (Terry Delfino), Jeffrey Tambor (Stephen Vigman), Burt Young (Leo Poplar), Melanie Lynskey (Cindy), Alex Shaffer (Kyle), Margo Martindale (Eleanor), David Thompson (Stemler), Mike Diliello (Jimmy Reed), Nina Arianda (Shelly), Marcia Haufrecht (Gina Flaherty), Sharon Wilkins (Judge Lee), Clare Foley (Abby)
So-called “feel-good” movies are tricky business because most filmmakers are all too willing to paper over or outright bend reality in order to deliver the emotional candy the audience is craving. Of course, a little candy isn’t a bad thing, but too much of it makes you sick, and that is often the case with movies that bend over backwards to concoct all means of forced scenarios and logic-defying conclusions just to ensure that the audience walks out feeling warm and fuzzy at the end.
The real beauty, then, of Tom McCarthy’s aptly titled dramedy Win Win is that it stays true to the realities of the difficult situation it presents and still sends you out feeling hopeful and fulfilled, not because it delivers false promises of “happily ever after,” but because it shows us the myriad beauties of life despite its complexities and disappointments and ugly ironies. The film’s central character is Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a husband and father whose small-town New Jersey law practice is not doing very well. Feeling the economic crunch, he makes the bad decision to take over guardianship of Leo Poplar (Burt Young), a court-appointed client who is in the first stages of dementia. Mike’s decision is purely monetary: He knows he will be paid $1,500 a month for watching over Leo, but he shirks on his promise to keep Leo in his own home and instead puts him in a retirement community. Because we have seen Mike interacting with his wife, Jackie (Amy Ryan), his young children, and his coworkers, as well as spend his afternoons coaching a flailing high school wrestling team, we know that he is at heart a good person who, under great stress, made a poor choice (we also know this because no one is better at playing likeable, stressed-out schlubs than Paul Giamatti).
That poor choice (as many poor choices do) ends up having serious ramifications, as Mike soon finds himself having to take care of Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer), Leo’s teenage grandson who has trekked halfway across the country to live with him. Kyle’s mother (Melanie Lynskey) is a drug addict and absent parent, so distanced from Leo that he was unaware he even had a grandchild. Mike and Jackie do the responsible thing and take Kyle into their home, even though he has the potential to be trouble. But, like Mike, we sense that he is a good person at heart and that his rough-and-tumble exterior is just a façade for a sensitive kid who has been dealt a tough hand in life. Mike soon discovers that Kyle is a state champion wrestler, which allows Win Win to work in elements of the underdog sports movie--perhaps the ultimate feel-good genre.
Yet, McCarthy, who also wrote the script from a story he concocted with Joe Tiboni, never allows the film to slip into easy or sloppy pathos. Reality is always nipping at the narrative’s heels, reminding us that hard situations don’t have easy answers, even if we’re watching a movie that is able to soften some of the edges with well-timed comedy and a gentle sense of quirkiness that doesn’t become distracting, as it does so often in indie dramedies of this sort (I’m thinking specifically of the prototypical Little Miss Sunshine and all its carefully arranged quirky outrages). In fact, what makes Win Win work so well is McCarthy’s ability to convey fundamental human decency, even in deeply flawed characters. We can recognize the enormity of Mike’s sin against Leo, but at the same time understand why he did what he did and respect his efforts at the end of the film to set it right. McCarthy--whose last film, The Visitor (2007), was a similarly moving parable about bridging divides--is generous with his characters, even potentially cartoonish Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale), Mike’s best friend who is wealthy, boorish, and in the midst of an ugly divorce. Terry is the closest thing the film has to broad comic relief, but Cannavale (who also appeared in McCarthy’s directorial debut The Station Agent) makes him imminently likeable and endearing, if only because he lets us see his insecurities, something with which we can all identify. He is, like the movie itself, both funny and a little sad, but ultimately heart-warming in the best sense of the term.
|Win Win Blu-Ray|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 23, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Win Win is presented in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks great. The image is sharp, clear, and very nicely rendered, with great detail and beautiful color saturation. Director Tom McCarthy shot the movie on celluloid, rather than digitally, and the transfer maintains a slightly filmlike texture that is warm and pleasing. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack is also first-rate. Despite being heavily front-oriented due to the dialogue-heavy nature of the film, the surround channels are well-employed for ambient sound effects (particularly at the wrestling matches) and to expand the musical score.|
|There are a few supplements, mostly brief featurettes whose titles are pretty self-explanatory. In addition to the six-minute “Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni Discuss Win Win,” where the writer/director and his co-writer talk about the movie’s largely autobiographical origins, we have a pair of two-minute featurettes from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, one that follows actor David Thompson and one in which McCarthy and actor Paul Giamatti discuss the movie. There are also two deleted scenes, a short making-of featurette, and The National’s “Think You Can Wait” music video.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment